Mueller touches on plan to partner with Telluride
Mt. Crested Butte business owners expressed satisfaction for the direction of the summer Tuesday evening, concern over lackluster winters and interest in the possibility of moving toward Montrose as an airline hub. A potential partnership between Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the Telluride Ski Company also got some attention at a business forum hosted by the Mt. Crested Butte town council.
Mayor William Buck said he was pleased with the turnout of nearly a dozen business leaders at the work session Tuesday, December 6, and started the conversation with a question about the impacts of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge that rolled through the valley in August.
“To make this a better town, your input is of utmost importance,” Buck said.
Wanda Bearth of Crested Butte Lodging said she saw business increase, but not enough to fill much more than a third of the beds that were available. But overall, she and the other business owners felt the event provided a bit of a boost.
RB Bathje, owner of Real Balance, was the first of a few business owners to talk about the difficulty in getting people to stray away from the USAPCC events being staged near the finish line. And the comment struck a theme that was repeated throughout the meeting: dispersing the crowds can help spread the benefits an event brings to town.
The USAPCC seemed to be a prime example of how that struggle played out this year. The clear feeling was that the event itself was great and brought an influx of people to town, but lacked the extended benefit some were hoping to see.
“It was kind of a one-day wonder,” RB said. “I know they had a lot of things to keep people occupied in anticipation of the finish. But maybe the day before and the day after we could [hold events] that will get them up here and maybe reap the rewards of an extra 24 hours of visitation.”
CBMR vice president and general manager Ethan Mueller echoed RB’s concerns, saying, “We wondered if businesses in Mt. Crested Butte should focus on having a presence out in the parking lot. People seemed to want to stay out there anyway … And I think people, myself included, expected there to be a mass exodus [from the events]—and there wasn’t.”
And by the time the USAPCC came to the Valley, the issue of the consolidated crowd had already been seen at Crested Butte Bike Week. RB and others said some Bike Week-related events were better suited to the mountain, as opposed to Crested Butte, and urged the council to look at bringing the event’s registration and orientation to the base area.
When he compared years Mt. Crested Butte hosted Bike Week’s opening with the years registration and orientation were held in Crested Butte, he said the latter were “disastrous.”
Mueller said he felt “there wasn’t as much energy at the base, although there was certainly more than the week prior.” But he said he heard from a lot of bike companies during the week that wanted to have a “demo” presence on the mountain, to give people an opportunity to ride different models, because they weren’t getting the number of riders they were hoping for. “Maybe that’s a component we could start looking at to get people up to Mt. Crested Butte.”
With discussion about the struggle to share events that can bring a benefit to one town or the other, RB said, “It seems like with the fireworks and the Bike Week registration and orientation there’s a greater clash than I ever remember there being between the two towns. For Bike Week in particular, the ski area has done great things to make the product attractive,” he said. “But with orientation downtown … there’s no guarantee that people are going to come up to the mountain.”
He added, “If the downtown thing gets ugly we can have the Bike Week registration up here and let them have the fireworks. I think [Crested Butte] Bike Week reaps bigger rewards than the fireworks.”
Buck defended the town’s position on the fireworks, reminding RB that the town tried to find a place where the fireworks display could be seen from everywhere before “the tacit agreement fell through the cracks.”
There was agreement that the summertime activities in Mt. Crested Butte were working for the business community, but could also use some tweaking to wring the biggest benefit from events that might not return every year.
Mueller told the council and business leaders that the resort is continuing to focus on developing its summer amenities, including the summer concert series, and said, “It’s promising to see the growth that we did see. But there’s more there.”
Colorado FreeSkier owner Gabe Martin noted, “This is the busiest I’ve ever seen the base area.” He commended CBMR for the work it had done with the mountain biking trails and activities around the base area, adding, “This last summer was the first summer I tried to stay open full-time just to see if it was worth it—and it was worth it.”
Even Martin’s winter numbers are up so far, he said; he told the council he just “hired a guy today because I’m understaffed. I’m not skiing because I’m working too much.”
It’s a good problem that some of the other businesses are having as well. Adaptive Sports Center director Chris Henley said he’s booked solid through the winter after December 11 and, while the ASC isn’t tied to any special events, business will be up 16 or 17 percent this winter.
The discussion of the coming winter brought out talk of ways to improve the atmosphere in the base area and, in the town in general, improve safety and access for people trying to shop along Treasury Road and elsewhere in town.
But eventually the conversation turned to ways of getting more people to visit the valley in the winter to shop and ski, and that means addressing the airlines issue.
WestWall Lodge manager Tyler Newman asked, “What can we do to create a better air program?”
Councilman Chris Morgan, who sits on the board of the Rural Transportation Authority (RTA), explained that the valley’s taxpayers are paying more for airline guarantees and seeing fewer seats coming into the local airport. “It’s not cheap to fly into a place like Crested Butte,” Morgan said.
Buck said the airline budget used to be bigger and said, “There’s talk about a public vote to level off the sales tax countywide to supply the RTA with another million bucks basically to shoot, most likely, toward the airlines. Those are some of the things we’re looking at long-term as well as some regional cooperation possibly.”
Roman Kolodziej, owner of Black Tie Ski Rental, asked, “If it’s such a slippery slope in dealing with the Gunnison Airport, for example, and it’s not as easy as just throwing money at it to get prices where they need to be, what are the options with targeting Denver and Montrose as where we want people to fly into and making it as comfortable and reasonable for people to get from there to here?”
RB said he’s heard from a lot of people in the last three years who are flying into Montrose to drive to Telluride for their vacation. “There doesn’t seem to be any aversion to the drive,” he said.
“That’s some of the conversation that’s being had and those avenues are being pursued,” Buck said. “It’s a great point you make and it is moving in that direction.”
Mueller confirmed that the resort does market flights to Montrose and added, “We’re working on a program with Telluride on a multi-resort vacation program through Montrose. But one problem we do see with moving entirely away from Gunnison is losing group business. You do threaten to hurt your group business.”
He pointed to the members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers who are skiing at the resort currently and wanted the most direct and convenient transportation to the resort. But he indicated that different avenues to get to the valley were being explored.
Despite Buck’s offer to the business leaders to “Do a dump on the town,” no one had any grievous complaints about the job the town is doing in maintaining the amenities for residents, business owners and tourists.
Another meeting between the council and the business community will take place in about six months, in preparation for the summer season.